The once-great United States of America is giddily and recklessly running, stumbling, downhill; rapidly approaching the edge of a shear cliff, below which lies unavoidable destruction.
There are many reasons why that has come to be, but well amongst them is the thoughtless, uncontrolled, development, use and abuse of potentially beneficial technology, such as nuclear energy, television, computers, and, especially, cell phones.
As a teenager, there was no television in my bedroom (actually none in anyone's private home). We did have a radio (one; located in the living room). There also was only one telephone in our home, which was located in my father's firstfloor office, where it adequately served five of us, living on four floors.
Our family car didn't have a simple radio (to save money), and truly portable radios were yet to be developed.
Amazingly, perhaps, none of that bothered me - not even a little bit. We got along very well, and were quite happy, in spite of being thus deprived.
I then resided in one of three villages, snuggled up to each other in New York's eminently desirable Westchester County. There once was a rumor that someone's young daughter had to go on "extended visit out of state," because she was (Shhh!) pregnant, but, in general there was essentially no significant crime nor immorality (other than parking overnight on the street); no one depended on welfare, and everyone lived responsibly, economically, and well.
Seems strange, today, that we could have been happy without television, soccer practice, Orlando, fast food, yoga, gas-wasting SUVs, credit cards, widespread welfare, loose morals, and, especially, those abominable cell phones.
I witnessed the first mobile phones being made available to the general public. They cost a fortune ($1,500 in today's dollar); weighed 35 lbs; were slung from one's shoulder in a black bag; and worked in a motor vehicle, only if plugged into an obvious, external antenna, which advertised your "advanced" status.
Several of my otherwise respected friends and associates "had" to have one, "so that (their wives) could call in, should they have an emergency while driving." It seemed unimportant that statistics showed clearly that their wives, who had never had even a parking ticket, were most unlikely to ever need a telephone in their cars. Technology does that to us, to even the few rational ones.?We convince ourselves that we "need" (as opposed to "desire") that "gee whiz" new gizmo. Today the world seems to NEED cell phones, without which we actually got along better than now.
That early mobile phone has, seemingly overnight, become the unnecessary, bothersome, ubiquitous, socially-destructive cell phone, which, in my opinion, threatens traditional, human social foundations, and thus humanity itself.
I am the shopper for my home; I am continuously surprised by the number of persons loudly engaged in meaningless and unnecessary conversations while shopping for such as toilet tissue.
"Here's a roll for $0.59; should I buy that one? Oh wait - there's one with imprinted teddy bears; would that be better? Which brand do you buy?" Is the idle person with whom they're jabbering while shopping, going to offer vital, real-time advice? How, one wonders, were we able to buy groceries before we had cell phones?
I know a family with two teenage girls, both of whom, like most such today, have had their own cell phones for years. It wasn't long before those little idiot boxes were in regular use among family members, even while at home. For instance, their mother would dial the girls' phones individually to call them to dinner from their bedrooms.
One evening, as I sat in that kitchen chatting with that mother, she dialed the girls, but neither of them answered her electronic call. The father stormed off upstairs to summon them the old-fashioned way; soon returning with the pair, whom were complaining loudly that, "We've told you many times Mom, we don't answer our phones when we're home: you need to text us instead."
Both girls had their latest-edition, pink phones in hand, ready to rudely talk or text with absent friends during dinner.
Insidious cell phones have all but destroyed normal human relationships by undermining our behavioral patterns in many diverse ways. Children of various ages use cell phones to routinely cheat on educational tests; cheating themselves in the process.
And they use them to establish and use shallow "social networks," such as those that encourage users to upload naked, explicit photos of themselves.
In researching this column, I spent a few minutes roaming the Internet for self photos made by children. I easily scrolled through hundreds of such, most of which were crudely made using cell phone cameras (visible in mirrors generally used to make the photos), and which featured partial or sexually explicit nudity. Wow!
What a great use of technology. Junior is just barely literate, but he can text and send nude photos of himself while recklessly operating the family's gas-guzzling SUV. Cell phones are clearly necessary for everyone today.
Your children don't "need" cell phones, and probably shouldn't have one until they are, at least, graduated from high school. Those toys seldom (almost never) see significant use in an emergency, but are routinely and continually used to gossip, spread rumors, buy things we don't need, pirate music, cheat at school and other places, make salacious photos of themselves for all the world to see, cause motor vehicle accidents, and even to trigger terrorist bombs.
At the same time, those expensive toys work insidiously to erode our children's ability to write and or speak effectively. No responsible, caring parent should routinely hand their youngsters cell phones as soon as they can walk - indeed, probably not before they earn that high school diploma.
The advances in this electronic age are promising: computers, for example, allow us to do many things seen as impossible just a generation or so ago, but they are also regularly used to steal identities, copy credit cards, gamble, buy prohibited substances, play addictive games or watch pornography.
Cell phones also have a potentially useful place in our lives, but in our giddy quest to have the latest electronic toys, we seem to have lost sight of what that might be.
Let's call a "time out!"
No cell phones for juveniles. Adults must, at the same time, set a proper example by never using a cell phone (unless totally hands-free) while operating a motor vehicle, by not gossiping on them while squeezing tomatoes in the supermarket, and by avoiding making or taking a call on one while in a social situation, unless it's a real emergency (which is highly unlikely).
Unless you, the adults reading this column, and others like you, have the intelligence and courage needed to attack the problem, historians somewhere someday centuries from now may write that the end of the once-great American Age was signaled and precipitated by the introduction of cell phones.
Cabbages and Kings is a syndicated column by j.g.nash. Relevant comment is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.